The 1933 original film King Kong began a phenomenon that has led to the cinematic fascination of giant monster movies. Seven films later, we arrive at the always atmospheric Vaults for this spoof theatrical version. With writing from one of the creators of Potted Potter, the signs are promising for an enjoyable evening.
We follow the familiar story of Carl Denham, played by Rob Crouch, a filmmaker intent on assembling an ‘anyone will do’ crew to travel to the mysterious Skull Island. While there, they will try and film their very own Hollywood blockbuster. Along the way they discover far more than they intended, and ultimately bring back a much more valuable prize. With franchises such as Godzilla and The Mummy films experiencing a resurgence at the box office, studios have sought to take advantage. Unfortunately, that cynical tag can also be applied to this.
Owen Lewis brings real energy to his production, which is stacked full of real creativeness. The most effective parts of the shows lie in the most ambitious sections, the evocations of Kong himself, who is effectively created in a series of build-ups before the finale atop the Empire State Building. Along the way Simon Scullion’s design and Tim Mascall’s lighting design effortlessly conjure location after location, flying through jungle to city utilising a series of multi-levelled platforms that evoke the 1930s with considerable charm. It is a shame that the piece is anchored down by a stretched, strained script that proceeds with all the grace and precision of a giant rampaging ape.
The problem with the show is that Daniel Clarkson’s script only contains around three or four jokes that are endlessly repeated and grinded down. This is until any sense of humour that you arrived with is beaten into a banana like pulp. There is the one where Ann says something intelligent and is ignored by the boys. There is the one where the crew member ‘Token Guy’ is hurt and miraculously survives (a nice gag, try it twenty times later). There is the one where something weird happens and then characters realise it’s weird and comment on it. Then jumble it up, do each of them as many times as possible and stretch into an hour and a half that carries real, real baggage. Gags can’t just happen, they must go on and on and aren’t moved on from until every ounce of fondness you once had for it is drained out. Bits are good. A nice sacrifice routine and a desperate theatrical agent are amusing to begin with, but even these lose appeal. When an audience member gains the biggest laugh of the night you are in trouble.
This is all such a shame when you have a clearly talented cast fighting to make any of it work. Crouch gives Denham an earnest pompousness, and although a wandering accent appears it is an overall effective portrayal. As Ann, Alix Dunmore works with a lot more of the weaker material but manages to emerge with credit. The rest of the cast, Ben Chamberlain, Sam Donnelly and Brendan Murphy all bring tight characterisation and strong physicality to each of their roles but need reigning in on extending their time on stage as much as possible.
Overall this is an intensely frustrating experience, shorn of any love for the source material. References are cheap and the film plotline itself is more of a vehicle to shoehorn other loose comedic ideas in. As it stands, King Kong (A Comedy) is a punishing experience for man or beast.
King Kong (A Comedy) is playing at The Vaults until August 27.